Reddit’s disrespectful design

An overview of Reddits seemingly counter-productive changes.

Source: Reddit’s disrespectful design

The author says, “I’ve stopped using Reddit mostly because I no longer wanted to support a site that has aggressively started to employ disrespectful design patterns.” Excuse me, but “started?” They’ve been going down this road for years. I’ve stopped using Reddit entirely, and have the site blocked on my network, so that I can’t inadvertently give them traffic by clicking through a search result, as they have obviously paid through the nose for placement these days! Just about everything I search on has at lease one Reddit link in the first page of results. For awhile, I would click through to the page, wait for the site to load it’s 100 MB of scripts, dismiss the popups, expand the answers, and see what Google had supposedly found, but I gradually realized there is never a good answer on the site. Technical discussions are not what people are doing on the site.

500 comments on the HackerNews discussion about this post, and these are the only comments about porn:

This exchange is utter nonsense. Reddit is filled with porn. Thousands and thousands of subs are dedicated to it. If you have an account, and allow NSFW content — and take note that most of the viral posts on the site are marked NSFW, encouraging you to do so, even if you don’t necessarily want to look at porn — all it takes is one search on the site, and you can instantly infer how much of it there is. Yes, a lot of it is come-ons for someone’s paid site, but there is a virtually limitless supply of free, high-quality porn to accommodate everyone’s tastes.

No one wants to admit this. I will. I’ve had a look around. It’s bewildering how much of it there is, and how specific it can be. I’ve brought it up many times in various HN discussions, and no one even wants to acknowledge it. The exchange above is a perfect example of just ducking the issue entirely. In fact, the exact inverse of what’s stated here is true: Reddit is a porn site, with some user-interest topics (like gaming, audiophile headsets, or mechanical keyboards) to keep you engaged between wanks. One of these days, I expect PornHub to take a note, and start forums on their site about whatever people want to talk about. Who knows? Maybe they already do. I’ve not “researched” that site.

Congress, in a Five-Hour Hearing, Demands Tech CEOs Censor the Internet Even More Aggressively – Glenn Greenwald

We are taught from childhood that a defining hallmark of repressive regimes is that political officials wield power to silence ideas and people they dislike, and that, conversely, what makes the U.S. a “free” society is the guarantee that American leaders are barred from doing so. It is impossible to reconcile that claim with what happened in that House hearing room over the course of five hours on Thursday.

Source: Congress, in a Five-Hour Hearing, Demands Tech CEOs Censor the Internet Even More Aggressively – Glenn Greenwald

Glenn brilliantly sums up what’s been bothering me lately. For a long time, liberals have ducked-and-covered in the Free Speech debate, saying that online censorship was a private matter, and therefore did not run afoul of the First Amendment. But Congress has been applying more and more pressure to get Facebook (in particular) to censor their content in a way they find acceptable.

Once a platform becomes as ubiquitous as Facebook, Twitter, or Google (or Amazon), it should be regulated as a “common carrier,” and not censor at all. They have become de facto services of the public, like water or electricity, and should be treated as though they were. We don’t allow the water or electric companies to dictate who can be served, or what those resources are used for.

Libel and threats can still be prosecuted as the illegal acts they are. We lose nothing in preserving freedom of speech on these platforms. All the incitement and insurrection in the Capitol that was facilitated by social media is being prosecuted, and hard. That’s precisely how the system should work: Say whatever you like, but be prepared to suffer the legal ramifications if you cross over into illegal speech.

We are letting these companies redefine what it means to live in America. Congress is encouraging them to redefine it. At this point, I guess there are two kinds of people. Those that think that the First Amendment is, perhaps, the purest written form of freedom ever written down, and feel we should do ever more to preserve it, and those that think this was a Bad Idea, and feel it’s time to repeal the notion of it.

Orwell’s depiction of Oceania has already become reality in China. Even further, they have already implemented a social scoring system like the one depicted in the Black Mirror episode, Nosedive. What’s so utterly disappointing is to see all of this taking shape in the United States, the very last place it should, by the ideals of our founding. There’s a reason why the US has fallen to 27th place on the list of free countries.

“I will slaughter you” |

Source: “I will slaughter you” |

“I lost my family, my country my friends, my home and 6 years of work trying to build a better place for posterity. And it has beginnings in that code. That code is used to root and exploit people. That code is used to blackmail people.”

“So no, I don’t feel bad one bit. You knew exactly the utility of what you were building. And you thought it was all a big joke. Im not laughing. I am so far past that point now.”

Someone literally and directly threatens an open source maintainer’s life, and a commenter on his blog post says we should look to Apple, instead of law enforcement, to “police” his thought and action. He’s already stated that he’s lost $15M of business, and his “family, friends, country, and home” because of curl’s author. This person is obviously confused about curl, and the role it played in all the things he accuses. (It’s just a command-line HTTP agent, and can’t “hack” anything that has been properly secured.) But, sure, let’s deplatform him from a cloud provider, potentially locking him out of his personal data as well. Surely, this will assuage his murderous reaction to this string of recent misfortune.

We all know how out of touch our government is in this “Web 2.0” world, but Apple, Twitter, Facebook, Google, et. al. are not even nominally accountable to the public. On the one hand, it’s frightening to think that people are looking to corporations to safeguard society. On the other hand, I suppose that people could rationally look to them because our government is so completely ineffective in our digital world.

Unless something significant happens to rebalance power from corporations to the government again, especially with respect to the digital economic and informational challenges we face, it feels like we are headed straight for a cyberpunk, citizens-of-worldwide-megacorps future that authors have been warning us about for decades. And it will happen, not because the big, scary government mandated it, but because government stopped doing anything, and corporations just took over where government left off, and did things according to the only thing that drives them: their bottom line.

Facebook “Supreme Court” overrules company in 4 of its first 5 decisions | Ars Technica

As you can see, Facebook has to make decisions on a wide range of topics, from ethnic conflict to health information. Often, Facebook is forced to choose sides between deeply antagonistic groups—Democrats and Republicans, Armenians and Azerbaijanis, public health advocates and anti-vaxxers. One benefit of creating the Oversight Board is to give Facebook an external scapegoat for controversial decisions. Facebook likely referred its suspension of Donald Trump to the Oversight Board for exactly this reason.

Source: Facebook “Supreme Court” overrules company in 4 of its first 5 decisions | Ars Technica

This paints a picture of Facebook being very involved in picking what people can and cannot say about politics, and that’s a very disturbing picture to me. Before this article, I would have thought that they only stepped in on really egregious problems. I’m just not clear why Facebook should get involved in any of the censorings listed here. Let the software automatically block the boobs, and then let people say whatever they want about politics.

The boobs thing really shows why they’re always complaining about needing moderators, and they couldn’t possibly staff up to handle the load. Software has been able to effectively identify nudity for many years now. There’s only a problem because they want to allow some nudity. On a platform shared by, effectively, everyone with internet access, there really doesn’t need to be any. Lord knows there’s enough elsewhere. So I don’t think this isn’t something that they need to waste time and energy on.

The problem extrapolates. They don’t want people to quote Nazis, but they want people to be able to criticize Donald Trump, which oftentimes warrants parallels of speech. They won’t want people to post videos of animal cruelty, but they want PETA to be able to post their sensational, graphical protests, which look real. Facebook hires thousands of people in impoverished countries to filter out the gore and the porn, but none of that needs to happen if you just let it all go. The software can do that automatically. The problem is trying to find some happy mid-point, as if that needed to happen. And there are countless stories about how degrading and depressing the job of being one of Facebook’s moderators is, and I won’t rehash them here.

Things get real simple if you just pick one point of view. Instead, they’re playing the middle, and selecting what speech is “free,” what nudity is “tasteful,” and what gore is “fake.” So, yeah, if you’re going to employ people to censor things things, you’re going to need a lot of people. I have trouble finding sympathy.

As if on cue:

Source: Content Moderation Case Study: Twitter Removes Account Of Human Rights Activist (2018) | Techdirt

Manzoor Ahmed Pashteen is a human rights activist in Pakistan, calling attention to unfair treatment of the Pashtun ethnic group, of which he is a member. In 2018, days after he led a rally in support of the Pashtun people in front of the Mochi Gate in Lahore, his Twitter account was suspended.

Decisions to be made by Twitter:

  • How do you distinguish human rights activists organizing protests from users trying to foment violence?
  • How do you weigh reports from governments against activists who criticize the governments making the reports?
  • How responsive should you be to users calling out suspensions they feel were unfair or mistaken?

We’re constantly being told that Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act is the one, gold standard by which all speech on the internet is “allowed,” and how we can’t ever touch it. It says that companies cannot be held liable for the things that people post to their platforms. So why are Facebook and Twitter bothering to pick and choose what people can say at all? They are legally shielded from any problems. Just let people say whatever they way to say! If it turns out to be illegal, or slanderous, the people who posted those things can be sued by the affected parties. If people don’t like what’s being said, they be ignored and routed around.

I find the whole thing completely disingenuous. Either you have protection, and are for “free speech,” or you don’t, and need to police your platforms. Facebook and Twitter are acting like they need to kick people off their platforms to avoid being sued, but they are not at risk of that. They’re throwing people off their platforms because enough people make noise about them. It’s become a popularity contest, and mob rule. There’s nothing genuine, legally-binding, or ethical about it. That’s it. If some topic or person becomes untenable, they’re going to get the boot.

In the old days, the mob would boycott advertisers, like, say, the ones on Rush Limbaugh’s show. But you can’t do that on a platform like Facebook or Twitter, which use giant, shadowy advertising exchanges and closely-guarded algorithms to show ads to people, and everyone gets a different view, according to their profile. Even the advertisers have a hard time knowing how their ads are served or working! The people who would protest an advertiser would never know what is showing up most often on people’s pages whom they don’t like, and Facebook and Twitter sure isn’t going to tell them. That’s the secret sauce, baby. They can’t know who to go after.

So these platforms are proactively de-platforming people, but I can’t see why. They have legal protection. They can’t be blackmailed by boycotts of advertisers. What’s the mechanism here? What’s the feedback loop? I suspect the answer would make me even more cynical than I already am.

The Ad Contrarian: Facebook’s Year Of Disgrace

Facebook’s Year Of Disgrace

Here are 29 ways the “move fast and break things” jerk-offs soiled our lives in 2019.

Source: The Ad Contrarian: Facebook’s Year Of Disgrace

This was just 2019, and I’m recording it here to move it from a bookmark in my news reader so that I have it for reference.

Paul Graham on Why Billionaires Build

The ideal combination is the group of founders who are “living in the future” in the sense of being at the leading edge of some kind of change, and who are building something they themselves want. Most super-successful startups are of this type. Steve Wozniak wanted a computer. Mark Zuckerberg wanted to engage online with his college friends. Larry and Sergey wanted to find things on the web. All these founders were building things they and their peers wanted, and the fact that they were at the leading edge of change meant that more people would want these things in the future.


Yeah, I’m gonna go ahead and call BS on this. There’s nothing in the public record that makes me think that Zuckerberg had “friends” he wanted to connect with, or that Larry and Sergey couldn’t already find “things” on the web with Alta Vista or Yahoo! at the time. This is just revisionist billionaire protectionism.

Paul is trying to share well-known startup examples which prove that the average billionaire-founder isn’t building their empire on exploitation, but those two examples might be the most counterproductive that he could have possibly used. Both of these are of people who saw a business opportunity to exploit people’s behavior online to sell advertising, and built products to surreptitiously profit from it. If there was any consideration of building a better mousetrap, it was only to trap more mice for the purpose of milking them; not delighting them.

That, not exploiting people, is the defining quality of people who become billionaires from starting companies. So that’s what YC looks for in founders: authenticity. People’s motives for starting startups are usually mixed. They’re usually doing it from some combination of the desire to make money, the desire to seem cool, genuine interest in the problem, and unwillingness to work for someone else. The last two are more powerful motivators than the first two. It’s ok for founders to want to make money or to seem cool. Most do. But if the founders seem like they’re doing it just to make money or just to seem cool, they’re not likely to succeed on a big scale. The founders who are doing it for the money will take the first sufficiently large acquisition offer, and the ones who are doing it to seem cool will rapidly discover that there are much less painful ways of seeming cool.

Here’s where the wheels really come off his “essay.” All of the recent startups that have made the national consciousness — like GrubHub, Bird and Lime, and especially Uber and Lyft — all of them rely on exploiting underemployed people. Most people don’t realize how much it costs to employ someone, and traditional companies have borne a lot more than people understand. All of the “gig economy” work — as currently engineered — is exploitative, seeking to offload the burden (to us the technical term) of employing someone. If a person in a “gig-economy” job would factor in those costs, like wear-and-tear on their vehicle, or the increased insurance cost (that people should be taking out), a lot of people would find that they are actually losing money working for these companies in a “gig economy” position.

You can look at a simple chart of expanding productivity vs. flat realized income over the past 40 years, and quickly see that “trickle-down” economics hasn’t fulfilled it’s stated promise (no matter how much Rush Limbaugh tries to brainwash you otherwise), but the downward pressure on income for the past 10 years is coming more from exploitative “web 2.0”-type companies than traditional manufacturing, and the fact that the dot-com billionaire class, pushing the gig-economy, has been able to largely avoid scrutiny for that is proof that they’re rigging the game through the influence and cover their social-media-focused products can provide.

Graham’s “essay” is a joke because he — representing billionaires — and I — representing the other 7 billion other people on the planet — are talking about two different things. He defines “exploitation” as, say, child labor in the Orient, when the rest of us are defining it as “not making a fair deal with someone for their time.” Then, Graham ascribes political pressure to push the scales of balance of this trade back to the middle to simple jealousy, and that’s when his true colors really shine. Not only is he deluding himself about what it takes to exploit someone, he’s accusing people having a problem with the situation as being affected by base emotions, which are easily dismissed.

The most reliable way to become a billionaire is to start a company that grows fast, and the way to grow fast is to make what users want. Newly started startups have no choice but to delight users, or they’ll never even get rolling. But this never stops being the lodestar, and bigger companies take their eye off it at their peril. Stop delighting users, and eventually someone else will.

Stop it. Just stop it. You’re making yourself look silly, now, Paul. It’s been a long, long time since YouTube, Facebook, Amazon, or Twitter “delighted” anyone. They are all predatory monopolies now — with nation-state-level influence — and they are all exploiting people and gaming governments to stay that way. Google and Amazon, in particular, were delightful, 20 years ago, when they gave us things like Google Reader, and the ability to block sites from search results we found counter-productive,  or highly-curated, highly-rated selections to choose from, with high-quality reviews to help make a selection. Now that they’ve achieved monopoly positions in their market, they no longer have to trouble themselves with such things as being easy or helpful to use.

In the old days, wildly successful companies and people would at least be expected to pay an increasingly-significant level of tax, but quiet changes to the tax laws over the past few decades has essentially given us a flat tax on income, and zero tax on corporations. Bezos is on track to becoming the first trillionaire by the time he dies, while the national debt has risen to $30 trillion dollars, and half the country is struggling to pay rent. The executives at all of these companies almost certainly pay less income tax, on a percentage basis, than I do. It seems like something has become seriously misaligned in our economy here, and I wonder how bad it’s going to have to get before something is forcibly done about it.

Not completely related to personal accounts being banned, but something that hap… | Hacker News

It’s incredibly scary that Google’s moderation bots can be a single point of failure for a business employing 20+ people.

Source: Not completely related to personal accounts being banned, but something that hap… | Hacker News

When you’re starting a business now, you simply have to factor this possibility into the plan. How are you going to deal with random — or not so random — malfeasance Google? Or Facebook? Or Amazon? Or Apple? Just like any other obstacle, you’re going to have to have a way to route around them. If you can’t figure out a solution, but still want to move forward, then you have to have an exit strategy in case the platform you’re relying on screws you over. They don’t owe you a thing, and you may get exactly what you’re paying for. Plan accordingly.

Big Tech to face its Ma Bell moment? US House Dems demand break-up of ‘monopolists’ Apple, Amazon, Facebook, Google • The Register

Of course, there is still a long way to go before any of the report’s recommendations become a reality. Even within the committee, there is not unanimity, with some Republican members expressing concerns over breaking up companies in particular. Republicans will also be more ideologically opposed to adding regulations or removing companies’ ability to arbitrate disputes themselves, rather than through the courts.

And then of course there is the enormous collective power of Apple, Amazon, Facebook and Google – some of the world’s largest and richest corporations – who will be willing and able to do anything to protect their markets and profits.

Source: Big Tech to face its Ma Bell moment? US House Dems demand break-up of ‘monopolists’ Apple, Amazon, Facebook, Google • The Register

I note, for the record, that AT&T was broken up long before Citizen’s United was decided, when our government still worked, because both sides actually  compromised on legislation. I also remind everyone the the Supreme Court is NOT, in fact, the final say in our laws. If Congress doesn’t like the way a decision went, they can write a new law in light of what was decided.

But do you really think that a bunch of Congress-people are going to forego campaign funding from Silicon Valley by voting to break up four of the biggest corporations in the world? Even if they weren’t getting money from those companies before, you can bet their primary challengers would, the next time around. You can’t fix our corporatocracy until you get rid of Citizen’s United, and we will never be free of it now. As if we didn’t have a big enough problem with it before, the decision guarantees regulatory capture forever. Campaign funding and the life-and-death polarization of our two-party system will never allow for reversing it.

There’s no public interest in these hearings. There is literally zero chance that anything will substantively change. Even if they do break Instagram out of Facebook, or YouTube out of Google, what will that really do? Nothing. If this is really about the advertising market, then all you’re going to do is split your existing spend, and if there are just 4 entities involved in the market instead of 2, they’ll collude on pricing, as a middle finger to the government. And, like AT&T before it, they will eventually just reassemble themselves into something even more monstrous than before.

This is about money. It’s always about money. Congress thinks that these companies should be giving more of their money to their campaigns, and this is how they go about getting that done. Watch campaign contributions rise in the wake of these hearings, note that nothing effectively changes, and then remember I was right. This isn’t rocket surgery. We’ve seen this before from the Microsoft trial.

On Monopolies, Apple, and Epic – iA

Google has built a complete monopoly on search. Amazon uses the sales data of its resellers to continuously expand and solidify market dominance. Facebook copies the competitors that they can’t bully into being bought to keep their dominant market position. Apple is partying in antitrust land forcing its competitors to hand out 30% of its revenue. The game is rigged. And no one is enforcing the rules. Except for Epic, the maker of one of the most successful games of all time.

Source: On Monopolies, Apple, and Epic – iA

Just a good article.

Amazon and AI/ML

At this point in our glorious capitalistic society, it’s the companies who are running the country, and they’ve got us by the short hairs. Who could have guessed, even 25 years ago, that the American public would literally fall over themselves letting companies track everything they do — and therefore surmise our thoughts — in the name of getting directions, seeing friends’ baby pics, and getting an illusory 3% discount on purchases?

Amazon has stated that they see themselves becoming a SHIPPING company. They’ll just send you the stuff they know you want and are ready for. On the odd occasion you DIDN’T want what they shipped you, you just send that one back. Once they get their predictions algorithms down to a theoretical 5% return rate, they’re going to start doing it. That’s how well they feel they can predict our thinking.

Amazon, Google, and Facebook all have an internal profile of every person in America. Verizon, AT&T, and Comcast too. Even if you don’t have an account, these profiles are built over decades of data collection, colluding with other tracking companies, and collating everything you do which could have left a digital trail.

These companies know IF you’ll vote, and who you’ll vote for, and they know how to present things to people on the fence in order to tip their preference. This is all in the documentary on Cambridge Analytica: The Great Hack. Yes, the last presidential election was hacked, but not by Russia. By the Republicans. In aggregate, it’s a definitive science. I don’t even see the platforms being used in this regard (e.g., Facebook and Twitter) necessarily preferring one party or the other, as long as they push votes to candidates that they feel will allow them to continue to extract rent from society, unchecked.

This is what we’re up against now. Silicon Valley has captured our government through campaign contributions, and they have the means to keep it in their pocket going forward. The United States is now a corporatocracy. We are now the United States of Google, Facebook, Twitter, and Amazon. (And Microsoft, Cisco, Oracle, and Apple.) Some people want to use the full weight of the US government to fight climate change. I would rather use it to break up the tech companies to manageable, competing pieces, and return to a government of, by, and for the people; not companies.